Last month I decided to change my active monitor speakers for a hi-fi system as I'm not doing music production but listening to music quite a lot. After doing some research I decided to get the Kef LS50 bookshelf speakers and the Wyred for Sound (W4S) ST-500 MKII power amp. For now I still using the Focusrite Scarlet audio interface but I'm planing to get a proper DAC and do other upgrades in the near future.
I had the chance to listen to the LS50 before I purchased them. My first impression was very positive. They produce a very clear sound, deep and tight basses and very nice stereo imaging. The only problem for me was that they were a bit too bright. However I already knew that these speakers sound better after 200 hours of use. A friend of mine came with me to the shop and he was not sure if there was a subwoofer conected until the sales man told him that it was only the LS50 playing at that moment. These speakers produce a "big" sound considering their small size.
Build quality is excellent. Compact and rigid box with black glossy finish. These speakers are design in UK and (unfortunately) manufactured in China, but I can tell that Kef did an amazing job. You wouldn't get these speakers for this price if they were made in the UK. I paid AUD$1750 which is reasonable considering that the standard price is USD$1500.
I had the opportunity to try the blades in the same shop. I just can tell… AMAZING SOUND!!! Extremely deep and well controlled low frequencies, revealing mid range and crispy highs. Sound staging is unbeatable: 2 speakers creating a 3D sound experience. I was not listening a CD, I was listening to the musician performing for me. My wife was with me as well. She is not into hi-fi systems but she was amazed for the sound. Well… it was not a smart decision to listen to the Blades before the LS50 but the experience was a revelation. Now I comprehend what a top notch audio system can do.
From the beginning I was clear of what I wanted: a power amp (not an integrated one) with balanced input only because I didn't want to pay for other inputs that I wouldn't use; I wanted an amp with warm sound because the LS50 are already very bright; Finally I wanted lot of power, not because I listent to music at very high volumes, but because I wanted for the amp to be very "relaxed" during normal playing.
After a few weeks of research I found a review from 6Moons about the ST-500 MKII and I was very impressed for what I read. I continued the research and after a while I was quite convinced that this amp would be a good match for the Kef's. I couldn't find that amp in a local shop so I had to take the risk and buy it online. The main features that I liked about this amp are: balanced input, efficient class D amplifier, MOSFET output stage, high impedance input and 220W power per channel.
My room is 3.6 x 3.0 x 2.4 mts and not properly treated yet. I have a couple of foam matreces behind the speakers and 2 sound absorption panels on the sides. I have 2 metal speaker stands. I filled them up with sand so they probably weight 10 kgs each. They are 60 cm tall which is not tall enough for my normal listening position. For now I put an angled foam under the speakers so they are pointing slightly up. Because the speaker cables are 1mt length (left overs from other projects) currently I can't choose a better position for the speakers. I'm using cheap balanced cables going from the audio interface to the amp and 1mt of 12AWG OFC zip audio cords from the amp to the speakers (I separated the cores and twisted them).
My plan is to slowly improve my setup as I get more knowledge about hi-fi systems. I don't like wasting money buying stuffs without knowing if they will work as I want. Anyway, what I got is a very nice sound indeed. Low frequencies are deep, reasonably well controlled but not well defined (I think) because of the room. I put the round foam inside the bass reflex (just the first layer) and the low frequencies are a bit more controlled now. The speakers sound "bigger" of what they really are because they reproduce low frequencies very well.
The mids and high are very clear, so much so that I could identify sounds that I didn't hear before. However, after a couple of hours of listening to music at a reasonable volume my ears became fatigued. The high frequencies at this moment are too harsh and I needed to take a rest. Currently I have to take breaks between albums as my ears become tired quickly. I'm quite sure that speakers will get better after a few months of use. Stereo imaging is OK but not amazing and there is not sound staging. I think it's because of the low quality cables and the audio interface. I already bought new speaker cables and I hope to get them within 2 weeks.
I think the LS50s and the ST-500 MKII are an excellent match. I'm very happy with the results. I also know that the sound will get much better after I do some changes on the system and the room. I enjoy going step by step, studying about new things, getting new components and listening to the improvements. During the next few months I want to improve the following items: